Alcee Hastings: Congress Needs More Funds for Homeless in Future Coronavirus Stimulus Bills

As one of the co-chairs of the Congressional Homelessness Caucus, U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., is calling on Congress to include more funds for the homeless if it passed a fourth stimulus package responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Hastings and fellow co-chair U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, rounded up more than 90 members urging House leadership to build upon funding provided in the CARES Act by including sufficient resources to protect homeless Americans in the fourth COVID-19 aid package. The letter requests: $11.5 billion in Emergency Solutions Grants to expand shelter capacity and support rapid re-housing programs; $3 billion in Housing Choice Vouchers to expand housing access to those most vulnerable (seniors, individuals with disabilities and/or underlying medical conditions); and $100 billion in emergency rental assistance funded through contributions to Housing Choice Vouchers, Emergency Solutions Grants, Section 521 Rural Rental Assistance, and the Disaster Housing Assistance Program to avert a massive surge in evictions due to loss of employment, therefore preventing an increase in America’s homeless population.

Other members of the Florida delegation who signed the letter are Democrat U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto.

The letter is below:

Dear Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader McCarthy:

Thank you for your leadership with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to address the public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic. As you begin work on the next package of bold initiatives to help Americans cope with the consequences of this public health crisis, we urge you to continue your strong efforts to protect one of America’s most vulnerable populations—individuals experiencing homelessness.

We greatly appreciate that the CARES Act provided $4 billion in funding for the Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) program, which can be used to conduct critical activities in the fight against homelessness through outreach, shelters, rapid re-housing (RRH), and prevention. This has established a strong foundation for protecting the nation’s homeless, and it is imperative that Congress uses the next stimulus package to finish the job.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness has published an academic study that has projected that homeless individuals infected by COVID-19 are twice as likely to be hospitalized, two to four times as likely to require critical care, and two to three times as likely to die than the general population. Given this population’s unique vulnerability to the coronavirus, it is imperative that the next stimulus package provide sufficient resources to keep safe our constituents experiencing homelessness.

1. Emergency Solutions Grants: Expanding Shelters and Supporting Rapid Re-Housing

In the fourth stimulus package to address the impact of coronavirus, we ask that $11.5 billion in Emergency Solutions Grants funding be included in this legislation.

It has been estimated that the cost to safely shelter the nation’s homeless population in a manner consistent with social distancing would amount to $11.5 billion for the current year.1 At the same time, the best way to promote the health of individuals experiencing homelessness is to house them in their own spaces, which would also help to open additional shelter space for individuals currently living on the streets. Therefore, $4 billion in ESG funding should be designated specifically to house a significant portion through rapid re-housing. RRH is a Housing First program that provides short-term rental assistance and services to help people to quickly obtain housing, increase their self-sufficiency, and stay housed. Congress created RRH in 2009 during another sharp economic downturn, during the establishment of the $1.5 billion Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program. This program had provided RRH and homelessness prevention to 1.4 million Americans for more than three years.

During this pandemic, the total projected level of ESG funding that is needed to be able to protect our nation’s homeless population is $15.5 billion – $11.5 billion for the establishment of safe shelters and $4 billion for rapid re-housing efforts. The CARES Act has already provided $4 billion in funding for ESG. Therefore, we ask that the fourth stimulus package include an additional $11.5 billion.

2. Housing Choice Vouchers: Expanding Housing Access to the Most Vulnerable

As noted above, the best way to promote the health of folks experiencing homelessness is to house them, and this is particularly true of the most vulnerable homeless—the elderly, the ill, and individuals with disabilities. Providers of services to the homeless are using the ESG funding from the third stimulus package to prioritize this vulnerable population for placement in safe shelters or hotels and motels.  However, when the pandemic subsides and the emergency ESG funding recedes, this vulnerable subpopulation is likely to become homeless again.  Instead, we should start moving them into permanent housing right now.

This vulnerable subpopulation is unsuitable for RRH, which provides only a short-term rent subsidy, because they have high barriers to employment and independence.  However, they would qualify for Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV).

The HCV program is the federal government’s main avenue to assist very low-income families, the elderly, the ill, and individuals living with disabilities in affording decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market.  Vouchers are administered locally by public housing agencies (PHAs), which receive federal funds to operate the voucher program.

Homeless individuals who are elderly, ill, or have disabilities often lack the resources necessary to pay the rent but often do not need services beyond what is regularly available in the community.  Therefore, we ask that the fourth stimulus package establish 200,000 new vouchers, which would be a $3 billion investment to last at least two years in duration.

3. Emergency Rental Assistance: Preventing a Massive Increase in Homelessness

The third stimulus package included welcomed new moratoria for eviction of renters.  A moratorium has been imposed on filings for evictions for renters in homes covered by federally backed mortgages for 120 days after enactment.  Another moratorium also prohibits the evictions of most residents of federally subsidized apartments.

However, many renters will experience losses of income as a result of the economic downturn caused by this pandemic and will likely incur significant arrearages during the moratoria. They are at significant risk of eviction after the moratoria expire. The expanded coverage of unemployment insurance is very welcomed, but additional assistance is needed to assist individuals currently struggling to make ends meet, having their work hours reduced, or living on fixed incomes.

Therefore, we ask that the fourth stimulus package include an emergency rental assistance fund of $100 billion, which would include contributions to HCV, ESG, Section 521 Rural Rental Assistance, and the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP). All of these programs have been used by previous Republican and Democratic administrations to address short-term rental assistance needs after disasters, thus preventing a massive surge in evictions from swelling the nation’s homeless population.  This fund would also provide assistance to landlords and other housing providers to stay solvent during the moratoria.

It is imperative that as a nation, we fund these critical programs in the next Congressional stimulus package to assist individuals experiencing homelessness. Allowing men, women, and children to live on the streets is not a standard America should be willing to accept, especially during a public health emergency. We thank you for your support of these programs and your consideration of these important requests.

 

 

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